January 02, 2008

Bull, fish

In the far northwest of New Mexico is a large Navajo reservation (actually, it sprawls over three states). Route 491 runs nearly directly south to north through the rez, with spectacular New Mexico scenery to be had all along the way. Spectacular, but somehow desolate too. The great emptiness of the land is like a fog that you slice through as you drive. Always there.

There are dramatic rock formations that punctuate the desert. Along the drive, none is more dramatic than Ship Rock, rising from the flatness to remind the viewer of one of those old ships with masts and sails. But mostly the land on either side of the highway is flat, unless it rises gently to meet the distant hills.

Took a road to the west, to Two Gray Hills and Toadlena, that cut straight as a ruler to those distant hills. Easily 8 miles before the first turn of any kind; at my speed, I could have stolen ten minutes of sleep and the car would have stayed in my lane, on the road. I needed the sleep, but eventually I decided not to indulge myself. In New Mexico, there will be other times.

Old Indian "trading posts" at both Toadlena and Two Gray Hills were closed, though at the latter site, three dogs behind a fence barked incessantly at me. There was, however, a notice up advertising an upcoming Prescribe Burning, whose "smoke will be visible to Chinle, Nazlini, Sawmill, Tsaile/Whitefields, Crystal, Window Rock and Fort Defiance, Gallup, Navajo and Highway 12."

There was another notice up about a missing bull, 1.5 years old with QQX branded on the left upper leg, N branded on the front left leg and a light blue eartag on its right ear.

Such are the announcements in Navajo country.

Before the road finally made the hillside ascent and swung to the left, it passed under powerlines that shimmered in the slanting sunlight as they made their own way to the hills. As if they were a vast array of gleaming upside-down bows, the road the arrow.

And past the curve, the surface deteriorated into glorified dirt track.

But it led to what I suspect was the only open establishment in the area: the Navajo Tribal Fish Hatchery. Rainbow Trout, being raised here from eggs that come from to stock some 20 lakes on the rez, where they'll be taken by recreational fishermen. The enthusiastic man who shows me around says there are 60,000 trout in the hatchery's pond. We see some of them, scattering when we get close. Hundreds, all about six inches long each. In tanks behind a closed door, he shows me what he says are 70,000 more trout, these tiny and no more than an inch long. Next year's crop.

Fish, and a missing bull, on the reservation. Back on the road, I stop under the powerlines for a picture.

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